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From: The Socialist issue 746, 12 December 2012: Kick out the cuts coalition!

Search site for keywords: Egypt - Military - Unions - Muslim - Democratic rights

Mass protests in Egypt against Mursi and his reactionary constitution

David Johnson

Big demonstrations have opposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi's attempt to seize new powers and railroad through a repressive Islamic constitution. Marchers chanted: "The people want the downfall of the regime."

There have also been large demonstrations supporting Mursi. In a brutal reminder of the methods of former president Hosni Mubarak, Mursi-supporting thugs have attacked peaceful demonstrators, aided by the security forces.

The draft constitution was rushed through the Constituent Assembly after a 15-hour sitting. Liberals, women and Christians in the Assembly walked out in protest at the draft in November.

Mursi called a referendum for 15 December to approve the new constitution. His haste is a reaction to the massive opposition to his power grab. He has now backed down from his attempt to stop any legal challenge to his authority, but only until the new constitution is in place.

The draft constitution contains many clauses that threaten any opposition in the future. It states: "The individual person may not be insulted." Mubarak used similar methods to gag opponents to his rule. Criminal prosecutions for "insulting the president" have increased since Mursi took office. Journalists could be imprisoned.

The draft allows civilians to be tried in military courts "for crimes that harm the armed forces." The military's economic interests and power to set its own budget are left intact and exempt from any democratic control.

Workers in military-owned companies could face military trial for strikes or occupations. Again, the Mubarak regime had a similar law.

On 9 December Mursi granted army officers authority to make arrests, further restricting limited rights won since the 25 January 2011 uprising.

Women's rights are left vague and open to different interpretations. Already women and girls have been assaulted and had their hair forcibly cut for not wearing the veil in public.

The police are given powers to "preserve public morality", opening the prospect of restrictions on civil liberties, including rights to assembly, freedom of speech and expression, as seen in Iran or Saudi Arabia. The eight million Christians feel particularly threatened by such powers.


The constitution dispute is taking attention from other attacks on workers and the poor. The government has also been negotiating with the International Monetary Fund over a $4.8 billion loan. Subsidies on butane gas and electricity have been cut as part of the linked austerity programme.

Mursi announced tax rises on many consumer goods and services - only to postpone these hours later until after a "social dialogue". Such indecision suggests sharp disagreements within the government and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). The FJP attacked the president's tax rises and demanded they be put on hold. They fear a backlash could lose them the constitution referendum.

Prime Minister Hisham Qandeel has said the government was committed to enhancing "the business environment... making Egypt an ideal destination for foreign direct investments." The rich elite in the leadership of the Brotherhood aim to profit from the privatisation of large sections of state-owned industries.

Anti-trade unions

Decree No.97 aims to strangle the growing independent trade unions. Only one union would be allowed in each company, preventing new independent unions from challenging the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF).

ETUF executive members over 60 years old (most of them) will be replaced by new members appointed by the Minister of Manpower (a Muslim Brotherhood member). Before 25 January 2011, 22 of 24 members of the ETUF executive were members of Mubarak's National Democratic Party. The Brotherhood aims to replace Mubarak's appointees with their own.

Several opposition parties have formed the National Salvation Front. It is led by former chief of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission Mohamed El-Baradei and former presidential candidates, Amr Moussa (an ex-Mubarak minister) and Hamdeen Sabbahi (a left Nasserist).

While protesting alongside the NSF against Mursi's power grab and the undemocratic draft constitution, socialists need to keep their separate identity.

The programme and previous record of El-Baradei, Moussa and similar capitalist politicians cannot inspire those who support right-wing political Islamist parties to split away. But a split along class lines in the support for political Islamism is possible.

Workers need their own party, based on the independent trade unions. A socialist programme of revolutionary change can appeal to workers, the poor and the youth.

A socialist constitution would include genuine democratic rights for all, as well as the right to freedom from poverty, homelessness and illiteracy.

Free education and healthcare, pensions for the elderly and disabled, a decent minimum wage - these are all fundamental rights that will not be conceded by capitalist politicians, whether from right-wing Islamist or liberal secular parties.

Ramy Sabry, a socialist activist and a fighter for workers' rights, along with other activists, were released from police custody in Cairo after many hours of detention. He was not charged.

During the recent protests against president Mursi in Cairo, Ramy and other activists were abducted by thugs linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, who subsequently handed them over to the police. It is reported that Ramy and others needed hospital treatment for injuries received during their abduction,

However, pressure from the mass protests in the streets forced the authorities to back down.

Relatives and comrades of Ramy thanked the Committee for a Workers' International for its international solidarity action.

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